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How to Achieve Work-life Balance

Updated on March 22, 2010

How to be assertive and achieve your goals.

Achieving work/life balance

Work/life balance is a common goal in the modern workplace. Government task forces study the problem of our long-hours culture - workshops are run, champions appointed, and countless newspaper and magazine articles written on the subject.

It is all a bit depressing. But reality is not quite as bad as some of the statistics suggest. Most of the people who work long hours - who are, overwhelmingly, well-paid professionals and managers - like their jobs. A study by Warwick University in the UK found that people who lost their jobs suffered a sharper drop in their level of happiness than people who split up with their partners.

The danger with the work/life debate is that it replaces one form of guilt with another. It used to be that people who left early needed to feel guilty because they weren't pulling their weight - and there are many workplaces where this is still the case. But the solution is not to make people feel guilty for staying late if they choose to. We need to get rid of both forms of guilt in our organizations. Guilt is never good.

One of the paradoxes of the work/life debate is that "knowledge work," which more and more of us are doing, is never done. There is always more that could be done - more reports to read, more networking to do, more polishing of a presentation or pitch.

On the one hand, this means that working hours can go up if we are unable to switch off. But it also means that the kind of work that more and more people are doing is more stimulating than before - that is, less like work.

Of course, there are people under stress who are working long hours. The never-ending nature of knowledge work and the rise of both the Internet and mobile information and communications technologies mean than the line between "work" and "life" will never be as clear again.

Top tips

What then can those of us with other hugely important priorities do to remain sane? Here are some suggestions:

- Take a break from work when you feel things are getting the best of you. This may be easier said than done, but it's a good goal. We eat when we're hungry - it is best to work when we feel productive, and conversely, and also stop working for a little while when we know we're pushing the boulder up the hill.

- Energize yourself. If you feel good, you achieve twice as much in any given period of time. So all the lessons about exercise, sleep, sensible amounts of alcohol, and so on, turn out to be true.

- If email is taking over your workday, try checking your inbox only twice a day - morning and afternoon. Perhaps two people will be irritated that you didn't get back to them immediately, but this will be more than offset by the amount of real work you get done.

- Find a partner you love. This may sound a bit simplistic - but the best way to prevent overwork is to make sure you have competing attractions for your time. If you truly love your partner/kids, you will want to be with them enough to stop working. And if you feel torn between your work and your home, you are lucky indeed to love them both so much. Enjoy.


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